FOLLOW-UP: Home Automation – Wink Relay & Wink Hub, Staples Connect D-Link Hub, and Lutron Caseta Smart Bridge – Plus Schlage Connect, Aeotec, Fibaro, and more!

In my second large installment of home automation, testing continues on finding the perfect balance between reliability and user interface.  Mixing a wide variety of devices on multiple platforms I continued to seek the best aggregating hub on the market today.  Can we finally call someone the winner, or is this still a work in progress?  My testing this time around included the new Wink Relay, putting that to the test with the Wink Hub versus Staples Connect’s new D-Link Hub.  Also deeper testing was performed on the Lutron Caseta Smart Bridge.  And finally, I added some new hardware such as the Schlage Connect door locks, flood and tamper sensors from Aeotec and Fibaro, and more!

IMPORTANT: Before you read this review you should START WITH MY FIRST HOME AUTOMATION POST.  In that review I talk about the reasons behind my decisions to include/exclude certain devices.  That post also explains that my home is older and lacks neutral wiring at most locations.  After my testing I found that the Lutron Caseta In-Wall Dimmer was the best option for my home when it came to smart switches, and the only ones that worked for me.  Again, start there, and then come back to this follow-up post!

UPDATE (NOV/2015)- Over a year has passed since this blog post/review was completed.  Though I do suggest you read it first, there is a great follow-up post as we head into the 2015 shopping season.  After you finish this entry be sure to check out the recently added  HUGE SMART HOME COMPARISON! – The new post covers everything from Apple HomeKit, to Samsung SmartThings, to Wink Connected Home Hub,  and much, much more!

PREFACE

During my last home automation review I used bullet points to talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly of each device that I tested.  Although this test includes only 3 hubs, and then 3 other add-on devices, I’m going to follow that same format.  I’ll save my final thoughts for the end, but as you read this remember that each home is unique.  The devices you decide to add to your house will potentially dictate, moving forward, what else you can add.  Ideally then you should start off looking not just at what you want to add immediately, but also down the road, so that you can ensure everything remains as compatible as you desire.

At the time of writing this article, my “smart home” includes the following hardware:
– Staples Connect Hub – Smart Home Central Hub (Supports various protocols, aggregates them)
Lutron Caseta Switches – 18 total (On/Off + Dimmer variations)
– Lutron Caseta Pico Switches – 7 total (for 3-way purposes and others)
– Lutron Caseta Plug-in Dimmer – 3 total (fish tank, lamp, etc)
– Lutron Caseta Smart Bridge
– D-Link Day/Night Camera (Model DCS-933L)
– Schlage Connect Camelot Touchscreen Deadbolts (2 total, Zwave)
– Aeotec Water Sensor (Zwave)
– Fibaro Flood Sensor (Zwave)
– GE Link Smart Bulbs (LED, 2 total)
– Wink Home Hub + Wink Relay Wall Controller
– Nest Learning Thermostat
– Chamberlain MyQ Garage Door Opener System
– Rachio IRO Home Irrigation System (8-zone)

As discussed in the original blog post, these smart hubs from various companies such as Wink and Staples are meant to aggregate your devices, regardless of who the manufacturer.  Unlike kits from competitors like Insteon and SmartThings, who rely mostly on their own hardware, the Wink/Staples units have a broad spectrum of 3rd party support.  With that in mind, how did they stack up as I tested them more since my first review?

Lutron Caseta Smart Bridge

  • Picking up where I left off the Lutron Caseta Smart Bridge was my hub of choice because it just works.  It is blazing fast, and super reliable.  It offers a basic feature set, but doesn’t do fancy things like geofencing, or integrating with third parties. In that regard it is a lot like the Philips Hue hardware out there.
  • As you can see in the photos below, I had plenty of automatic timed events to make my home experience better.  And working the app to turn on/off lights was a breeze.  For people who need switches that are smart, work with LED bulbs, and don’t require a neutral wire, I still recommend the Lutron Caseta Switches, but you may want to skip their hub if you want more features.  I wanted more features beyond just light control, so while I use Lutron switches, I also ended up going to the Wink/Staples for more integration.

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Wink Relay & Wink Hub

  • From a user interface, the Wink Home Hub and corresponding iOS software remain the most attractive.  I’m not a huge fan of the changes they recently made to the Lights page (icons versus sliders), but overall the app is without a doubt the most cosmetically gorgeous of the bunch.  Recently changes to the layout are also a bit counter-intuitive (with the Robots and Shortcuts pages sort of oddly places).  But I understand what they are going for and see the folks at Wink working REALLY hard to make a good-looking product.
  • However, as good as it looks, the whole system is just still too flaky for me.  As you’ll see in the very last Wink photo below, I would often open the app to find bulb data incorrect, or missing entirely.  This was an issue exclusive to the Wink system, that NEVER occurred with others.  And even when you turned a light off, sometimes the image wouldn’t update correctly on the screen.  And there remains horrible lag time from app press, to action.  Generally speaking the system just did not perform as expected or needed to be called good, or reliable.
  • Recently Wink released their new Wink Relay Wall Controller and many of the photos below are of that unit.  It is gorgeous in hardware design, high quality and easy to install.  However, again I had issues with it.  Those issues include but are not limited to: wall unit’s OS crashed a few times (Android), system would lock up and need removed and reinstalled on the wall, unit would stay on (display) even when no motion was detected, and of course the same lag issues that the main hub had.
  • Also during my testing I played around with some GE Link Smart Bulbs which utilize Zigbee protocols.  These bulbs are VERY nice, and for about $15 each they are a steal of a deal.  My two main issues with smart bulbs remain that most of them, post-power-failure, will turn on to 100% brightness (not ideal for bedrooms that experience a middle of night power failure).  And second, the fact that they are rendered useless if someone cuts the main power off at the wall (switch turned to off).  Issues like this are resolved with some new modern switches, including Wink’s own Quirky + GE Tapt Smart Wall Switch, though the jury is still out on if smart bulbs are better than smart switches (they are cheaper, though, so that is good).
  • At the end of the day the Wink Home Hub and Wink Relay Wall Controller were good but not great products.  The Wife gave me a hard time about the flaky performance, and the amount of times I found it missed a light turning on/off during a group-activity was enough for me to say that Wink has huge potential, but needs more time to polish their product.  Sorry guys, you have GREAT tech support, but that doesn’t matter if the product doesn’t do what I want properly.

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Staples Connect (D-Link version)

  • Last time I tested the Staples Connect system, it was their older Linksys hub.  Since then they have released a new hub that is made by D-Link, is black, and looks almost like my Apple AirPort Extreme router.  This new unit adds more radios, better antennas, and other tricks up their sleeve.  At the time of writing this article (Dec-14-2014) they have not yet activated the Zigbee radio (so I was unable to test it with the GE Link Smart Bulbs), and other updates have been rumored that will increase the enjoyment and interface of the unit.  If/when that happens I’ll either update this post, or make another new one.
  • Meanwhile, testing of this unit proved that reliability similar to that of the Lutorn Caseta Smart Bridge was possible from a 3rd party product.  This device handled my Lutorn Caseta Switches with grace, offering instant response time from controls via both the iOS app, and their VERY useful web portal (which offers the same control as your phone would).  I’ll admit I did miss having the convenience in my kitchen that the Wink Relay Wall Controller offered, but I’ll take solid reliability over pretty hardware any day.  Speaking of that, pretty is not the word I’d use to describe the Staples Connect iOS interface. It is functional, but at times clunky.
  • As you can see in the photos below, I added some extra sensors during my Staples Connect time.  These were Zwave devices that would have worked probably just as nicely with the Wink hardware, but since the Wink did NOT perform as desired for my light switches, I did not test those devices on their system.  At this point I recommend the Staples Connect over the Wink for reliability, but for beauty the Wink wins.  But really, the Staples just does more for me– you can have it take you directly to a certain screen when certain alerts occur (i.e.: garage door sensor was open? it can take you right to that camera).  There are a LOT of similarities to the Staples vs Wink hubs, and there are certain items that I own that Wink supports that Staples does not (such as my Nest ThermostatChamberlain MyQ, and Rachio Irrigation System)
  • After settling on the Staples Connect system for now, it was time to test more toys/add-ons.  Because the brand of the Staples Connect hub was D-Link, my first test was to add a D-Link Day/Night Camera, their most economical option.  Some of the more expensive cameras can trigger motion sensors in the SC hub, not just in the D-Link software, but this one does not.  Still the picture quality was good and setup was quick and painless.  If you’re looking to add a camera to the Staples system, you’ll end up with a D-Link brand.  If you want to add a camera to the Wink hub, the Dropcam is more expensive, but a nice option there for their hub.
  • Two big things the Staples hub lacks that I’d like are Geofencing, and NEST support.  Perhaps their next big update will add that (when they unlock the Zigbee radio).  They do, however, have support for devices like the UP 24 by Jawbone, that will trigger activities when you enter/exit sleep mode on your activity tracker.  Stay tuned, I have a feeling the battle between the Wink and Staples hubs has just begun!

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Schlage Connect Dead bolts

  • When it comes to home door hardware, Schlage brand is my favorite.  When we moved into our current house almost 6 years ago I updated all the exterior door hardware to their entry-level stuff, knowing I’d eventually want to get some nicer fixtures.  Now that I had the time and funds, I decided it was time to make The Wife happy with some brushed finish details.  Enter the Schlage Connect, as shown in the photos below.  Handles were also upgraded, and all key cylinders were matched to the same matching key.
  • One thing I’ve argued (at least with myself) is that nobody really makes a NFC or Bluetooth smart lock that I think makes sense.  There are some cool options out there, but many of them require people download that proprietary app.  That might sound fine, but does that mean I’d need 3 different apps to unlock 3 different friend’s doors when they invite me over?  Seems a pain.  Since there is no universal standard, I personally felt the 4 or 6 digit codes that these units from Schlage offered were more sensible.  It also was simpler for those folks with dumb-phones (or who just can’t handle the concept of using their phone anyhow to open the door).  Codes work fine for garage doors, so why not door locks?
  • Installation of the Schlage hardware was incredibly easy, almost to the point where I was worried I had missed something when it all happened so quick.  Two default codes come programmed, but you definitely need to read the manual step by step to get things going if you want to change settings.  Sadly the unit isn’t intuitive, but that is primarily because you’re dealing with entering numbers into the panel to initiate sequences.  Not a big deal, just don’t lose your owners manual.
  • Syncing the Schlage Connect hardware up to my Staples hub (Zwave) was easy, and worked perfect the first try.  I have noted that since then there was the occasional hiccup of a missed lock or unlock, but very rarely.  I’d say 99% reliability here, and some of those issues early on may have been my trying to lock and then unlock in too quick a succession.
  • When it comes to door locks there are a LOT of options, with more coming out regularly.  I went with a brand I knew and trusted, and also with Zwave protocols because that is fairly standard for future flexibility.  If you’re shopping home automation be careful what brand you get and more important, what frequency they communicate on.  Make sure the locks you get will work with the hub system you want, or already have.

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Aeotec Water Sensor

  • This past summer we had a sewer backup that caused flooding in our basement.  This caused damage that exceeded $1,000 in repairs and cleaning requirements.  Though the city has fixed some drains noted as being the fault at the street end, we don’t want to have that repeat again.  I’ve longed for a flood/water sensor in the basement that would monitor the house.  The incident also got me thinking about my hot water tank which wasn’t young, but wasn’t that old just yet.  I’ve heard horror stories from people of a tank rupture, so my goal was two-fold here.  Firstly, monitor the drain area. Secondly, monitor the hot water tank area.
  • Below are photos of the Aeotec Water Sensor, which was utilized in my case for my hot water tank.  Though hard to see in the photos, the metal prongs here touch the ground, right at the base of the tank itself.  Should my hot water tank leak in any fashion, this corner is at the lowest elevation (the floor is pitched slightly) so water should drain into/past those prongs.  As you can see above in the Staples Connect photos, the sensor will show wet/dry conditions.  This unit doesn’t have any custom settings, but it does have a nice long battery life.  Note you can use it to provide feedback both for the presence of, or absence of water!  This is useful if you want to position it to notify if you of a fish tank or other similar device being low on water supply.
  • Overall I was pleased with the build quality, the simple installation, and the basic simplicity of this device.  If you just want a simple trigger for water/flood, this is a nice little piece of kit to consider.  However, for more fun and data, check out the next device…

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Fibaro Flood Sensor

  • Funny thing about testing all these devices is that some of the hardware I’ll setup, but hopefully never touch again.  Such is the case here with the Fibaro Flood Sensor.  It is similar to the Aeotec in that it can sense water/flood situations.  But what it brings to the table is a pair of added benefits beyond just that.
  • First off, the Fibaro unit adds motion sensing.  Internally it has movement sensors that let you know the device has been tampered with.  While this provides you feedback to let you know someone has moved the device (which is cause for concern to check if the device is no longer in the desired location), but it also actually gives this device a second purpose.  Suddenly this unit isn’t just a water sensor, but can also be used in cases where you don’t want anyone to tamper with an item.  Imagine using this hidden inside of some box/case of collectibles, alerting you of theft.  Or any other circumstance where the movement of the device would be feasible to trigger a warning for you.
  • Secondly, the Fibaro unit adds temperature sensing.  And what is really trick here is that using the manual (and some rather complex instructions), you an adjust the pre-loaded high/low temperature ranges to trigger at custom levels.  I do wish the settings were easier to follow, but I get the limitations dealing with a low battery consumption Zwave basic device.  For me the default settings (33F to 95F) were fine for high/low alerts.  My NEST Thermostat works fine for that anyhow, and has similar range settings.  If you don’t plan to change these settings, then getting the Fibaro going was easy.  It is only if you want to REALLY customize the features of the unit that it becomes more complex.
  • Overall the Fibaro Flood Sensor was one of my favorite ones to setup, because it adds a way to keep tabs on my basement temperature, but also will let me know if someone moves the device away from the drain where it needs to stay for my monitoring purposes.  It was a cute, simple and cheap little device.  But it does a lot of tasks nicely.  By the way I did test the tamper and water features on this device, plus the water sensor on the Aeotec.  And once the winter temps get low enough outside maybe I’ll test the low-temp range too and see how that goes!

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CONCLUSION

In the end I’m happy with my Staples Connect setup, even if the interface is a bit messy to me.  For now I love that I can use my Lutorn Caseta Pico Switches to control non-Lutron devices.  This allows me to have a remote at my bed side that can lock the doors to the house, turn off the lights, and switch off an outlet.  However, their lack of integration with my irrigation system or thermostat are a bummer.  And the fact that they use a different system for garage door monitoring is also a weak point.  (I do think I may consider changing to their garage system down the road, if I commit myself deeper to their hub).

If you’re looking for the best hub options out there, be sure to consider what you want to integrate.  For me, and my hardware, the best option was the Staples Connect.  But if the Wink folks add some reliability and speed to their system, it will be a contender.   For those just getting started, consider making a list of the devices you want to buy (by grouping) — then write down the various brands and protocols they would transmit.  Then find a hub that supports those features.

You can’t go wrong with any hub these days, whether you get an INSTEON Starter Kit, or a Wink Home Hub or even something from SmartThings or Logitech.  And what works best for me may not be the best for you.  Just be aware that with big trade shows coming around the corner, and Google and Apple making big plays in the home automation space, you can expect changes that will disrupt this whole segment for months to come.  Whatever you do, be wary of going too deep too quick, in this ever-changing landscape that is the fun and fickle land of technology! Happy holidays.

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Published by

Ari Jay Comet

Sharing my life experiences. Interacting with technology. Digital self-expression. Binary is black, white, and many shades of grey.

82 thoughts on “FOLLOW-UP: Home Automation – Wink Relay & Wink Hub, Staples Connect D-Link Hub, and Lutron Caseta Smart Bridge – Plus Schlage Connect, Aeotec, Fibaro, and more!”

  1. Ari,

    Your blog postings are the best source of home automation product reviews I have found on the net. I’ve had a Nest for a few months and love it. I just bought two Lutron dimmer switches, Lutron Serena shades and a Wink. My Wink was stuck in update for a day and I wasn’t able to add any of my Lutron products.

    I’ve been hunting for what my other hub options are. I was about to buy the Lutron hub until I stumbled across your posts. I’d like to add a few other devices and that’s leading me to return the Wink and get the Staples Connect. Seems to be the product of choice based on your research and my set-up. I don’t have an issue using my Nest in a separate app, I won’t need to mess with the Nest nearly as much as I will adjust my lights and shades.

    Thanks for your research! I intend to keep an eye on your reviews!

  2. I am interested to know how you got used to the SC given that it has no scenes or groups. I recently purchased it, and I guess we are hoping they will add it, but I find all of the above quite lacking compared to some of the apps and power of the old vera3 I had previously (which still only supports z-wave). It would be great if you could add vera3 to your reviews and specifically using iVera or Automator app.

    Thanks for the reviews/testing!

    1. Will- thank you for the reply, appreciate the feedback.

      During my testing for my home the problem I ran into (see my first HA post) was that there are no neutral wires at my various outlets and switches. This limited me to the Lutron Caseta switches, as they were the only ones that could handle my LED-bulb loads without a neutral wire. All the other switches I tested had issues.

      At this time (as far as I can find doing a quick google search), the Vera controllers do not support control for the Lutron switches. In other words, even if I added that hub for testing, it would not work with my smart-switches that I have in my home. Hence any testing I tried to do would be somewhat slim, making the unit hard to really “test”… sorry. And since I don’t do this for a living but just recreationally, it would be silly to purchase an item that I know won’t work in my scenario at home.

      As for the scenes/groups– what do you mean there? There are ways to control multiple items at a time with the Wink (you can make groups of lights easily). But while that feature doesn’t appear natively in the Staples hub, you can use a Lutron Pico remote to control multiple lights if you want. You can even allow it to control certain non lighting functions. And the “Manual Activities” in the Staples hub would let you set multiple items/lights to various preset levels/conditions. Does that not work for your needs?

      If I can be of any further assistance let me know. Happy to chat more about your needs and my experiences to try and help you out! – Ari

  3. Hi Ari, thanks for responding. Few points:

    1. I think vera3 through the great community and plugins does support your switches:
    http://code.mios.com/trac/mios_lutron_radiora2_gateway
    http://forum.micasaverde.com/index.php?topic=26562.0
    http://forum.micasaverde.com/index.php?topic=12272.0

    1. I found that by using the HUE hub I was able to add the GE Wink lights and control them from there. Vera does appear to have the ability to connect to other hubs and control them via plugins, like HUE. I am currently debating the need for any of these new hubs vs Vera 3. I will soon get it from my vacation home and do some testing and report back to you if it helps. Vera’s new device the Vera Edge doesn’t seem to be getting good reviews either.

    2. Everything is home automation is about scenes and groups. Even the HUE app was hugely disappointing because of this very reason. Fortunately there are many 3rd party apps that specifically add groups. Let me give you an example. With HUE I have 2 lights behind my bed, 4 above head, one bulb in the living room, one in the garage and one outside (last 2 being GE Wink bulbs). By grouping, I should be able to group the 2 behind the bed and 4 above together, so they can be dimmed/controlled as a group (same as a light switch functions). Then to add a scene, I could set “movie” mode that sets these 2 groups to different colors/settings. By making it a scene I can turn it off/on with a toggle. These are more of UI/Design software issues. But you can see most of the HUE 3rd party apps exist specifically because of the ability to create groups and apply presets to them. These groups should be organized by rooms… ie, in my kitchen I want to group together 3 different sets of lights (overhead, under counter, above counter), and turn them on/off with one button.

    Whats strange is setting up the Vera3 is difficult and that is where the other controllers win. But using the apps and setting up your automation, the Vera3 seems like a tool and these other ones seems like a toy.

    Here are also some examples of other better design tools from Vera:

    iVera: has a favorites option that lets you control many things from one screen — on/off, dimming, temperature: http://a3.mzstatic.com/us/r30/Purple6/v4/1d/84/54/1d845420-47c0-b644-8cdc-da2b88676f2c/screen568x568.jpeg https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/ivera/id373726318?mt=8

    Automator app: http://a2.mzstatic.com/us/r30/Purple6/v4/f9/b3/66/f9b36665-6323-b1a7-ae26-f72efb9fa7b2/screen568x568.jpeg https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/automator.app/id394586792?mt=8

    HUE apps im using for groups:

    Lightbow: http://lightbow.net/ http://static.squarespace.com/static/51df2656e4b06c80c7174300/521d61c4e4b0692e6a85f084/53e2c80fe4b018c6bdf7b313/1407371319599/Light+List.png?format=500w

    http://huelights.com/

    ps, I have no affiliation with any of these companies. Just doing a lot of testing and trying to get a simple home automation system/house 🙂

    My vacation house has about 25 various z-wave light wall dimmers (a few 3-way), IP cameras, z-wave motion sensors, z-wave alarms, z-wave locks, GE handheld remote, 2 Trane z-wave thermostats,3 GE z-wave outdoor plugs, 2 GE z-wave lamp modules, 3 GE z-wave outlets, 3 z-wave scene wall controllers. My main house, im experimenting with HUE starter kit, 2 GE Wink lights, ecobee3 thermostat.

    Another note, HUE hub was able to pair the GE wink bulbs, D-Link Staples Connect was not … zigbee may not be enabled on it according to some posts Ive found in the community site. I’ve also found the SC to be flaky in reading current status of HUE lights. All of the 3rd party HUE apps have no problems, but SC does. I had to reset the SC hub 2x for not being able to send commands to HUE hub while I was able to delete and re-add the HUE hub each time prior to reset — so it receives the data but still has a hard time sending commands.

    I am still unsure of the value of using these wireless lights vs the z-wave light switch. With z-wave switch you can turn off/on the light from phone, remote, and wall. With wireless lights, you can only use phone, remote.. if someone tries the wall switch, they kill the ability to use the light, especially if they turn it OFF. I have one light outside that is always in the on position for some reason… no switch can be found for it.. and for that it works great. The rest, I am wondering why not just stick with all z-wave.

    One other random note: the vera3 community is awesome. The SC community seems virtually empty. Smartthings seems to have a great community but requiring internet is ridiculous for HA. Vera3 has an open API so guys usually write these plugins for every new device quickly. http://forum.micasaverde.com/

    Scratching my head over all of this still — cant we have the best of both worlds!?. Thanks for all your reviews and info!

    Will

    1. Wow– great reply, some nice links and a lot of really good info in there. Thank you so much for sharing.

      RE: Scenes– now I understand. MY parents have a full Lutron RadioRA system and though it is v1 from 14-years ago, it has what you’re talking about. And that works great, but their system is closed so only lights on the RA system work, no third party devices. Though I understand what you are talking about — the SC system does allow for this in a slightly different manner. You can’t turn on/off a set of lights as a scene, or a group, but you could make a “watch TV” activity that launches. Now if you want to turn off those lights that is a different activity you create… and it works fine for me. I have one for watching TV, but as that is usually the last thing we do at night I have another for “going to bed” that turns off lights, but leaves me a pathway to get upstairs. Then at my bedside I have a Lutron Pico remote that turns the whole house off, as desired. So it works, but a different approach. Perhaps considering giving thought to looking at the approach differently, rather than shoe horning yourself into the “this is how it was” mindset. Just a thought….

      But I digress. Your setup sounds big and quite powerful– but you are including the Pihlips Hue bulbs that I abandoned long ago. I felt, like you said, that having to use an app to turn on/off lights was a hassle. My in laws stay over quite often (70+ years old) so i didn’t want them to have issues with lights b/c of the lack of switches. Or my daughter/her friends. Etc. I’m not a huge proponent of smart bulbs, but i do enjoy smart switches. That is what pushed me to the Lutron Caseta hardware, it just made the most sense to me and is what i’d recommend to others. And there were no other switches that offered dimming for LEDs w/o a neutral wire.

      From there I stuck with the Lutron hub for the longest time and frankly it works great– it again doesn’t use a scene scenario, but it does have activities such as i described above. My only reason for using a Wink or SC hub was to try and make other components in my house link together. Though admittedly i’m still a skeptic in that i don’t see huge benefits just quite yet, as the home automation world is still a bit “behind” right now.

      Everyone has different hardware, and different needs and desires. OH.. one important thing you should know is the new D-Link black SC hub just had the Zigbee radio turned on about a week ago, so it does now work to control that hardware but only just recently about a week ago— so you can now use that for GE Link bulbs and similar— FYI.

      Lastly, I do agree about the community support existing better for Vera, SmartThings and similar. On the flip side Wink has amazing support, so the lack of a community doesn’t matter as much. And SC has fair/decent support too but yes I understand. However, my reviews for these products was going in considering how “average” consumers would like the product. You sound like me (a techie, geeky person who is happy to tinker)– but that, to me, isn’t going to help the success of the HA world. They need stuff that just works, out of the box, cheap, and easily. And right now nothing really does that (Wink is close but still too buggy, and SC is a bit more complex, but at least less buggy).

      Staples recently added Modes where you can have certain alerts or such happen differently when you are home vs away, entertaining guests, asleep, etc. I think that is a huge step in the right direction for how things work, though their lack of geofencing within the native app still bugs me. But again, features one person wants, another person could care less about.

      Feel free to share your Vera thoughts here. It just doesn’t really add anything for me that the SC doesn’t do already. And again my desires/needs seem to differ from you (plus I don’t want anything to do with the Philips HUE stuff– it didn’t excite me or work the way i wanted things to in my home)…. but i love hearing your feedback and hearing what other folks find… so by all means, keep the details coming– thanks!!!! – BE well…. – Ari

    2. Did the Trane Thermostats pair with the SC hub? If so how were the theromostat controls compared to the Vera3? TIA

  4. Hi Ari,

    Great feedback as well. I am trying to consider the different paradigms other than groups and scenes. I am not there yet, as it just makes more sense. I *think* all these guys will evolve to it. Its like SC is a v.01, and not 1.0. Amazing all these guys got the support they did while Vera3 has far more functionality, though lacking zigbee seems to have been their big slip.

    Few more notes: I have successfully added the GE Link bulbs to SC. I dont particularly like their color power but it does work. I had to reset them after adding them to the HUE hub. Like you said I am a techie and that took me some time of googling to figure out — its 3 seconds off, 3 seconds on, 3x in a row (sometimes took 4, I did it 5 to be safe). I posted that in the SC forums as well. Another note, the SC hub wasnt working when it was close to my router or HUE hub (I had them all next to each other). When I moved it, it discovered the GE lights.

    I am going to look more into the lutron setup you have… it sounds interesting. Ironically the easiest setup I had was using the GE hand remote and GE light switches, lamp modules, etc. Did my parents house in a few hours top to bottom. No app/hub, but that remote is solid.

    I do like the HUE color abilities in my bedroom. For reading its nice to have soft yellow but for more light, I like the white light. Yes I know complete over priced waste of money for that, but I like it :). One other note… HUE app now has widgets, so in iOS 8 in the “today view” you can have 4 scenes, which means you can control those things without ever opening an app, which I find myself using more than anything else and wishing all my HA controls were there.

    Another fun note, SC cannot read the GE bulbs from HUE, but can read them directly.
    I just purchased this to replace the idea of the GE bulb in the garage: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B003QKS4Z4 .

    Yes I agree with you that none of these are consumer friendly yet. It really boggles my mind. I wish we could take the benefits from these different systems and put them in one. Which is what I imagine all these guys said when they got funding… but so far they are years behind what any average consumer can do easily.

    btw, do you have a recommendation of an alarm system?

    1. Oh that light socket is super fun! I’ve currently got a generic motion sensor light in my garage, but I could see using that– except my garage has a fluorescent tube fixture and that won’t work for me. But very slick, nice find!

      FWIW, I think the latest version of the Wink hub/software also has a lock screen widget for iOS like you talk about with the HUE setup. I liked the Hue bulbs (really loved the “fade up” in the morning to wake me up casually) and it was nice hardware– but as you said, $$$….

      And yeah, you’re right that those of us “early adopters” are in many ways beta-testing these devices for the mfg. Hopefully they do get better fundings, better resources, and take this more seriously. I have a feeling that once Google/Samsung/Apple make bigger plays into the home automation segment (Which is about to happen in 2015) then these other guys (Wink, Staples, Philips, etc) are going to make a better effort to compete. That should happen soon…

      Oh and WRT alarm systems, I have a professionally installed wired system that was in my home when we moved in 6-years ago. Nothing fancy, and works on standard hard-wired alarm closed-loop protocols. I’ve often thought about upgrading to something wireless, but if it aint broke, don’t fix it, right? I’m using my HA hub to supplement the alarm in ways (motion sensors, cameras, etc)… I see them as compliments to each other in many ways. But no, I don’t have a brand recommendation or anything sorry.

      Ciao! Happy 2015…

  5. One big downside to SC is that it does not appear to utilize the dimming buttons on Pico remotes to properly control Caseta dim levels. This basically eliminates 3-way switching applications using Caseta dimmers. There is a very clunky way to program the individual buttons on a Pico to control preset light levels but the remotes never work the same as they did when they were paired right to the dimmers, and there is no independent control of the raise/lower buttons. Has anyone found any ways around that? Staples technical support was less than helpful and apparently on their support website they said they were considering adding functionality but that was five months ago.

    1. You are partially wrong but not entitely. Though by default the center rocker doesnt dim the same lights as on/off is assigned, instead you can set the dimmer to control any set of lights. So if you want to program the switch to mimuc native Pico you cant. But you dont have to. For example i have one pico where on/off controls a single light. The center favorite controls a scene of many lights on to set levels. And the dimmer dims just SOME of those switches. So if anything it expands. you have to custom program, but it can do 100% of normal PLUS a lot more wjth staples actually! So even more powerful IMO

      1. I cannot get my Pico remotes to work with the SC hub. They pair to the hub just fine, but have no functionality after pairing. Do you assign functionality to the switch from within the SC app?
        I didn’t have this problem with the Wink hub, but the Wink’s overall lighting performance was “wonky” at times which sent me looking for a more reliable solution. Could you please explain what you did to get functionality to the Pico remotes, as the setup instructions in the Staples app leaves something to be desired.
        In spite of the SC hubs solid reliability in my testing, it’s of no value If I can’t get the Pico remotes to work as designed. I may be forced to go back to the Wink hub and regain connectivity to my Chamberlain garage door opener and Kidde Smoke detectors or wait a few months for a Google or Apple solution. Argggh!
        BTW, thanks for the great blogs. I thoroughly enjoyed both of them.

      2. Norm,

        First off, thank you for the kind words. Glad you were able to enjoy and gain benefit from my posts. Yes I agree that setting up a Pico on the SC system pales in comparison to the simplicity of the Wink software (they do have a prettier interface but their system as, as you nicely put it, “wonky” LOL)

        Okay so here goes. First let’s cover basis on the Pico system compared to Wink. In the Wink hub you would assign various lights to a Pico and then it could turn on/off those lights (if using a dimmer Pico it could also dim those lights, and also has a favorite button that would jump to a preset level for all the lights on that switch). You’ll need to break free of that line of thinking when it comes to staples, as the device itself does NOT work in a traditional sense.

        With the Pico remotes in stapes, the ON and OFF buttons are each unique buttons that offer TWO totally difference “scenes” that you can initiate. The favorite button is then also a THIRD “scene” (or as SC calls these, Activities). However, the DIMMER on the Pico (up/down) does work in the traditional sense. You end up then with 4 total Activities you’ll have to create to gain full function of your Pico remote (if only an on/off style Pico, non-dimmer, then just 2 Activites).

        Once you’ve paired your Pico remote to your SC hub, you’ll follow these steps. I’ll give you examples of mine. First let’s pretend I want the ON button to turn on a series of lights, and the OFF button to turn off some lights. You’ll go into activities, top right /// button, create an activity, name it, click next. Choose “one of my devices should start my activity” and select that new Pico switch you added. Then under Reason, select one of those 4 examples I gave above (ON, OFF, Favorite — those three options can do MORE than just lights) — but the Raise/Lower dimmer is just lights.

        Leave the default to ALL days and Any time of day, so just click Set. From there, choose which lights/items you want to control. Sadly you cannot yet control locks, but you should be able to do things like blinds, outlets, etc. After you pick items you want to control, you click next, and choose what “settings” for them (open vs close, on vs off, dimmer levels, etc). You can glaze over the setting notifications that isn’t needed here. I’m sort of skipping a bit of info here assuming you know how to create activities, if not let me know or email me arijaycomet (at) gmail (dot) com and we can discuss further or reply here and I can take photos even, and provide more detail.

        BOTTOM LINE: what you are doing is creating a “scene”— an activity that takes lights (etc) to certain states of on/off/dim (open vs close for blinds, etc). The ON button is one activity. The OFF button needs to be a different activity. The FAVORITE button needs to be a third activity. And the RAISE/LOWER (dimmer) needs to be a fourth activity (but that final one works like a traditional dimmer)

        In my case, most of my Pico switches have ON and OFF just assigned to bulbs, and nothing else. If the bulbs they control are dim-able with a dim-style Pico, then I added that, too. I skipped Favorite. However, I have a Pico adhesive-taped to the side of my Nightstand. On that one ON turns ALL the lights in the house off. OFF turns ALL the lights in the house off. FAVORITE is an activity that sets various lights to a level that makes it easy for me to go downstairs in the middle of the night. And the DIMMER is set to just the master bedroom to dim those lights only. So again I had to create four separate activities for just one Pico– yes a pain in the butt, yet this means you could use a Pico in a different sense. Imagine having a Pico in your family room, where “On” is really “watch a movie” mode. And “OFF” maybe turns off all the lights EXCEPT sets the Family room to 50%. And the favorite is maybe an “off to bed” lighting that helps you get to your bedroom. And the Dimmer is that room. So again, more features than the Wink, but the initial programming takes some extra setup time.

        Does this help? If you have my Q’s let me know!! Cheers! – Ari

      3. Ari, thank you very much for your response, I had almost given up on SC. After further testing with a total of nearly 50 dimmers and Pico remotes over the past couple weeks I have to agree with you 100%. Programming the buttons individually is a hassle but worth it. The Staples Connect web interface speeds up the process greatly.

        The Staples interface is not intuitive in that it is not obvious that assigning the dimmer buttons will actually perform as expected – but as long as the Pico remotes are reset prior to bind (and with the Wink hub powered down and returned to the store) everything will dim as it should. A minor exception is that a preset level can no longer be set with a long press of the favorite button on the Pico – but that is not as useful unless the Pico is strictly being used in the conventional sense to control a single dimmer.

        On a side note there is definitely a range limitation at least with the Picos with the hub on one side of the house and a Pico on the extreme opposite side. For reference my house is 3000 sqft and distance through multiple walls can exceed 60 feet. In my situation the loss of connectivity seems to be accentuated if a Pico remote is mounted in a wallbox with live wires present. Moving my hub to a more central location should clear up the issue.

  6. Nice reviews and details on usage. Thanks. From what I have read in multiple places the Wink Hub and any associated commands will not work when you lose internet connectivity. Does the Staples/D-Link hub also require constant on internet connectivity to do anything? I am ok with needing it for setup and configuration, but have intermittent internet service in a location I would like to use it so I want functionality when the internet is out.

    1. You can still operate your switches locally so long as home wifi works. So that part answer is yes. However iPhone app does route to hub via cloud, so if your WAN goes down, you cannot connect phone-to-hub. But any pre programmed time-based activities will continue to run, Pico remotes still work, etc

      1. Thanks for the quick response. So it seems that at least in this respect the Staples hub is slightly better for poor internet connectivity than the Wink hub, but not great?

      2. I would agree there. I think most hubs work that way sadly. lutron is the same. It is a short coming in the app, which defaults to cloud DDNS versus looking at local wifi first. Easy to fix if devs cared. But they dont listen to our requests on this matter sadly

  7. Looking for affordable wall switches that simply do on/off and can function with the non-smart LED bulbs in the fixtures. I see you’re a fan of Lutron and while I like the products they may be a bit expensive for seldom used switches like in a utility room or closet.

    Is there any alternatives that work just as well but work in tandem with the apps/hubs so that the switch in the off position doesn’t disable app functionality? Or are all ZWave, Zigbee, etc switches built with this in mind?

    I’m torn between getting a Vera or a Staples hub. Only devices so far are Zwave but I want flexibility and forward compatibility.

    1. Stan, glad you found the blog. Allow me to answer your questions. First off, any of these smart switches will work without being disabled, that is the beauty of the switches. So even if you get a less expensive Z-wave or Zigbee switch, you’re good to go.

      However, the problem with many of these switches is that they pass SOME current through them, even when off. This is what allows them to “stay awake” (listening for RF signals through the air waves). Because of this, in a typical older home like mine (2-wire switches), that current gets pushed out to the light bulb. If you are using LED bulbs, the only switch that I tested that worked in my home on a 2-wire setup was the Lutron.

      However, if you have a 3-wire (white/neutral) wiring in your home, than there are many other options. INSTEON makes nice hardware but their system is rather closed, so I’d probably suggest Leviton as a brand I love and trust. And the Belkin WeMo line is nice, too– but again, not as widely compatible with other systems. (Lutron & Leviton are the brands I’d most suggest).

      So first things first you’ll want to see what sort of wiring your home has. If you have a neutral wire your options are far greater, and I’d probably suggest getting Z-wave as that offers the most forward compatibility. And with the neutral wire, you’ll have better luck with LED bulbs too, because the extra “current” the switches use to stay away (never shut off entirely) pushes down that natural wire, instead of to the load (bulb)– so you don’t have issues with bulbs flickering or being on dim, which is the problem I had due to a two-wire setup.

      Be aware that right now smart switches are still expensive, because we’re in the early stages of adoption. As more folks buy them, they will become less expensive. But yeah, I did 20+ switches at my house and dropped almost $1k to make it entirely smart. Ugh! 🙂

  8. Have you looked in to the new smart things hub yet? After reading a few articles I believe it could be a real contender for SC…

    1. No, I have not. This is because my home is older (1960s) and the wall switches do not have a neutral (white) wire. So when I upgraded over 20 switches total (at over $40 each) (do the math!) — I had to go with the ONLY ones that I tested which worked in my house. Those happened to be Lutron Caseta– which work perfectly w/o neutral wire, but with new LED bulbs.

      Because of my particular setup (and now in total with other home hardwire and bulbs I have almost $2000 invested in my home WRT lighting, bulbs, automation)– the SmatThings setup doesn’t support Lutron.

      Sadly this means that, at least in my home for personal needs, the ST hub won’t work and wouldn’t be tested. I wouldn’t be opposed to exploring/tinkering with one. So if someone wants to by me one to play with or such great. But I won’t be spending my own money on it, simply due to its lack of compatibility.

  9. How did you get the GE Link bulbs to pair?

    I have 2 of them and can’t get either one to pair. I tried ADD MANUALLY > ZIGBEE and it just searches for ever.
    – tired rebooting hub
    – tried doing the GE Link bulb reset procedure multiple times where you turn it off/on 5 times for 3 seconds – the bulb does do a flash which indicates that it ‘reset’ however the Staples
    Connect still doesn’t seem to see it.

    – the bulb is only about 10 feet away from the hub

    any ideas?

    1. Make sure your staples hub isnt too close to your router as that can cause interference. I unplugged bulb from socket, then went into search on hub, then while searching plugged/ screwed bulb back in and found it first try no issues here. Maybe contact support if your issues persist.

  10. …does the Staples Connect Hub need a regular WiFi network to connect to the ZigBee(GE Link bulb) or any other types of devies? I currently have my Connect Hub hard wired to the LAN and WAN. I think all the HA devices connect using their own protocols other than 802.11 WiFi but just thought I would ask

    1. Much like your first question(s)– this may be better answered by someone at Staples rather then me, since I’ll just be speculating. That being said, I’d doubt you NEED Wifi hooked up if you have the hub setup via LAN. If you are able to connect to your hub from the web or your phone then that should be good, and from there the bulb connects via Zigbee or similar. No wifi involved.

    2. Let me chime in here… I had problems with the ge bulbs until I moved the hub at least 5 feet away from all of my other equipment. Also there is a reset method of off 3 seconds on 3 seconds 3-4 times consecutively for the bulb itself. After doing the reset and moving equipment it finally found it.

  11. Thanks kindly for your ongoing review of the home automation products. I anxiously await the inclusion of SmartThings and MiCasa hubs/systems to your review-set.

    1. JCB79 – thank you for the interest. At the moment neither SmartThings nor MiCasa offer support for the Lutron Caseta lighting (last I checked). Because of this omission, their systems would not work in my home adequately to bother testing them.

      I’m currently looking at other friends/family members who have more modern homes, where I may be able to install light switches that are not Lutron, which would work with those hubs. If that happens I will definitely review the ST and MC hub/systems.

      But for the moment, I’ve got no immediate plans to test them since they aren’t compatible with the Lutron lighting my house required (no neutral in my wiring)

  12. Hi Ari, been reading your blogs. REALLY informative! Wondering if you have any HomeKit related updates? I’m renovating a condo and am looking for HomeKit related devices to include (LED dimmers, Stereo receivers,etc). thanks in advance, Marty

    1. Marty- At this point HomeKit is still not yet released to the general public. There are articles on the web speculating who some of the first companies will be with compliant hardware/software, but the truth is that nobody really knows for sure.

      Those manufacturers wishing to get on board need to get Apple’s MFi certification amongst other steps. And who, if anyone, has already received that is not published anywhere that I’ve found. Not to mention that again the actual release of HomeKit isn’t there (there are settings in iOS for HomeKit but no “actual” support just yet for controlling devices).

      If you want to know what brands are expected to be “the first” then check out this slide from the WWDC presentation last year:
      https://9to5mac.files.wordpress.com/2014/06/screenshot-2014-06-02-14-36-24.jpg?w=704&h=340

      Hope this helps! As soon as I know more, I’ll be posting (and reviewing products) here on my blog! – Ari

  13. Hi Ari, Thanks for your great blog post. I wish I had found this before trying to compare the various systems through my own research. My first foray into home automation came via my Securifi Almond+ wifi router[1], which supports a wide range of sensors[2] and have monthly updates for more sensors and new features. It’s still in ‘beta’ stage, but might be worth a look when becomes more polished.

    [1] http://www.securifi.com/
    [2] http://wiki.securifi.com/index.php?title=List_of_compatible_sensors_-_Almond%2B_2014

  14. Hey, loved the full reviews. I installed a Wink Relay about two months ago and have loved it… when it works. Before it was just odd glitches but lately it keeps giving me the “cannot connect to servers” error, same as the one you pictured. I’ve tried rebooting using the button underneath, and every time I do it works for about fine minutes and losses connection again. How did you get around the error when you got it?

    1. You should contact Wink support. Mine never had this issue but had plenty of other problems so i returned it. I’ve heard they have been plagued with similar problems. Their support team is pretty good though so give them a call.

  15. I appreciate your reviews of automation solutions. I’ve tried the Wink hub also with limited success. Recently I upgraded my wifi router to the Netgear X6 AC3200, which made the Wink useless. After reading your comments, and from other readers, I think I may be ready to give the Staples Connect a try.
    My home is only 15 years old, so I don’t have the issue of a two wire setup. And currently only have the kitchen setup with 4 GE Link bulbs on a Leviton dimmer. My questions about the Stales Connect hub is; why is Staples marketing their starter kits along side the hub? What is the role of these starter kits or monitors if the individual devices all connect to the hub?

    1. Staples sells the starter kits because those come with some other item, to “get you started” — this is the same thing competitors like INSTEON are offering. Rather than selling just the hub, you can get your feet wet with a hub and one or two specific components. At one point the pricing for that combo was also more competitive.

      However, I believe the Staples starter kits all include only the OLDER Linksys hub (White). If you want the new D-Link hub (Black) (which you do!), then you won’t be able to get a starter kit.

      For someone who hasn’t done their homework and is new to HA, they would want a starter kit to spend time learning more, and then going back to buy the hardware they desire. Sounds like you’ve already been around the block a bit, so in your case I suggest buying the black D-Link hub and then individual components you want.

      At my home I’ve been running that exact setup (D-Link Staples Connect) with a LOT of various add-ons as you’ve seen on my blog here, and it works great!

  16. Just getting started with HA . Want to control my Schlage Camelot BE469 door locks. Tried Smartthings, hub.All kinds of trouble connecting and did not like their app. What would you recommend ?

  17. Thanks for all the great insights you’ve written about on your blog! Would you recommend starting out with just GE links and a Lutron Smart Bridge hub? My apartment is too small at the moment for me to get anything too fancy, but I would like to start building my components for a HA system in my future house. Do you think these would be good to start? Just using smart bulbs and maybe adding in outlets later. Thanks again!

    1. If you want the most future expansion possibilities, then the hubs from Staples, Wink, or SmartThings would offer the most versatility and compatibility. However, if you just desire to play around, even a simpler setup such as the Belkin WeMo hardware would work for you. It may depend on how much scalability you’ll need/want down the road. But the Belkin hardware has always been nice for smaller spaces, though less expansion possibilities. For example:

      http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00MMLTUG0/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B00MMLTUG0&linkCode=as2&tag=arijaycomet-20&linkId=WBXRC5PUF2EXOHTD

    1. Yep, saw the update and email yesterday. That is great news! Should be interesting though to see how all of this landscape changes as Apple’s entry to the market comes later this year.

  18. Hello again! I’m just wondering if the Staples hub is any better now than Wink. While Wink looks great it really sucks. Polling takes forever, robots barely work, geofencing is a joke and support just tells you to reboot. Do you know if the trippers for Wink work with Staples or any other hub? I’m considering making a switch even if it means having two hubs as long as it is not Wink lol.

    1. If I had to guess the Tripper probably just used Zigbee protocols and as such may work on the staples system but I’ve never tried. There are cheap options look for my review on the blog here for the Aeon sensors and such. Plenty of staples options just as nice and cheap. I went staples and haven’t looked back. So much better and more reliable. Good luck!!

  19. Looking for daylight/bright smart (dimmable) LEDs. I see that TCP offers 60w equivalent bulbs that seem to be what I’m looking for, but so far I’ve got the Wink hub (working, almost always) and Cree connected soft-white bulbs in a few rooms. I have the option, I suppose, of returning the current setup, buying into TCP or adding the TCP hub, but it just seems like someone else should be offering Zigbee or Z-wave compatible bright bulbs. Contacted Cree, they said as far as the CSR was aware, they are not in the works. As far as changing hubs, whatever hub I got would still need an additional TCP hub to use their bulbs from what I understand. Any other options other than throwing down for a TCP hub just for putting a few bright bulbs in select locations?

    1. Since you already have a Wink hub, there I’d probably go for the GE Link bulbs. But they are soft white, are you saying that isn’t bright enough for you? Check them out here:

      http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00NOL16K0/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B00NOL16K0&linkCode=as2&tag=arijaycomet-20&linkId=OIZGTAHYTFZV625P

      Beyond that, I’m not sure what to suggest. My issue with smart bulbs was that they can be “killed” if someone turns the switch off. SO instead what I ended up doing is just replacing switches. This gave me the ability to buy any bulbs I wanted, they didn’t have to be smart. What I bought were there:

      http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00JJY0S4G/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B00JJY0S4G&linkCode=as2&tag=arijaycomet-20&linkId=6TP4JM2L6UYWV5LC

      But as you can see, it gets VERY expensive, very quickly. You end up with $60 switches PLUS the cost of dimmable LED bulbs. And that becomes pricey! I’ve got way more money invested in my lighting now than I ever really wanted, but it works really nicely. And if you end up hating the Wink hub, then the Lutron, Staples, or other hubs all work with Lutron’s switches.

      Hope this helps somewhat answer your question. – Ari

  20. need bottom line config answer: use staples dlink, lutron caseta annnnnd maestro dimmers, use harmony home to control all…..do i need to buy the harmony hub, lutron hub orrr can use the staples for ALL? ( understand that caseta is fine, but not sure about the maestro ( has a fan and lt dimmer switch) thanks

    1. I don’t have any Maestro equipment but my understanding is that it utilizes the same Clear Connect protocols. staples even lists the Maestro equipment on their site for sale leading me to believe it should work. The only hub you should need is the Staples and that should do everything you want. You can buy the staples hub at this link:

      http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00TKDOVSU/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B00TKDOVSU&linkCode=as2&tag=arijaycomet-20&linkId=A6MQ6ZEQ2VTSW7E6

      1. thanks for quick response. i understand about staples being able to control the automation/lts..what about the control of aud/vid equip? isn’t that why i would need the harmony or staple takes care of that, also. now, if…it’s so that for aud/vid need the harmony…..can it all be down through harmony hub-only. trying to see if one hub annd control does it all. dang, it’s confusing

      2. perhaps where i’m getting lost/confused..is that staples does NOt come/have a remote. that your smart phone (which i don’t have one. old fart. like my old hello/goodbye phone). in order to use/control lights, stereo, dvd, theater, etc…is ALL done through staples hub and my ( if i had one ) smart phone. if that IS, so…ok…now i get it. if not….still lost

      3. Staples is used to control your home automation. However for people if you want to control your stereo equipment DVD player and so forth you need something like the Logitech that you were talking about. You are mixing your home automation with stereo. Logitech will control your home stereo but then you will need a separate system for home automation lights etc.

      4. Basically here is how it works– most of these hubs (staples, lutron, smartthings) control home items like lights, cameras, sensors etc. home AV gets controlled by different system — Logitech tried to bridge the gap. But to make that work you also need hubs for those items. So to make the Logitech work in example you gave you would still also need the Lutron hub. It gets complex and costly that way

  21. finallllly clear. been at it all day..searching and no simple yes or no’s. sounds like the harmony system. thanks, b

  22. Hi Ari!

    This review and it’s predecessor are so well done, and have really helped me as I begin my foray into the world of HA. I am currently at a crossroads, about to make some hardware purchases that will have a lasting effect on what buy and how I continue on.

    I currently have a Nest thermostat, two Haiku ceiling fans with SenseME (from Big Ass Fans, beautiful, silent, and talks with Nest and iPhone via WiFi network), three Leviton VRMX1-1LZ 1000W Vizia RF ZWave Universal Magnetic Low Voltage Dimmers, and two Leviton VRPD3-1LW Vizia RF Series 300-watt Scene Capable Plug-In Lamp Dimming Modules. I plan on integrating dimmable LED under-cabinet kitchen lighting (not yet installed or purchased), and some other home automation stuff like Chamberlain/LiftMaster garage door status/closers, and maybe a flood sensor, and a camera or two in addition so some more lighting control (switches and plug-in modules).

    So my pressing question is, which hub? After reading and rereading your posts and many others, it seems like the best two are the Staples D-Link and the Wink. The Wink being the best looking and with the beautiful Wink Relay, but not being very fast or reliable (Is this still true? Is the Wink a waste of time because of that?), and the Staples D-Link, which now supports Nest. I need two main functions given my components (which I am not afraid to bail on if I’ve gone down the wrong path), I need prompt reliability, and I need to be able to program and set everything with relative ease, even while I’m away from home and not on my WiFi network.

    I also own a Leviton VRCPG-SG Vizia RF + Handheld Remote Controller Programmer/Timer, which is a total POS. Seriously, it’s like stepping back in time, maybe one UI better than typing DOS commands. Also, I mostly love Apple’s products but one, don’t want to wait for their offering, and two, think it will be too proprietary and exclusive, as a lot of their stuff is.
    Also, does anyone have any experience with the Fibaro Home Center 2? It seems like the future, albeit at a steep price. The reviews on their iOS app are horrible. I was also entertaining trying out a Fibaro Z-Wave RGBW Controller Model FGRGB-101 for the kitchen white-only LED cabinet lights.

    And while I’m asking, any suggestions for really extending the range of my WiFi network? I’m trying to reach the garages, which are a little distance away and blocked by building.

    As for the hub and hardware, I have some money saved to spend on this project (new apartment), but I want to make decisions that will lead to a reliable and pleasing user experience. Thanks again for all of your efforts, testing, and research!

    Best,
    Matt

    1. Matt, first off thanks for the compliments. Glad you found the reviews I’ve taken the time to compile here as helpful. That being said sounds like you have the start to a very nice home automation setup. Hopefully I can provide some answers and additional help here.

      Based on the hardware you have listed, the Wink hub might offer the broadest spectrum of compatibility. However, it isn’t the best as I’ve stated before. Admittedly it has been some time since I tested these units, and I’d like to hope/think that Wink has improved. But I cannot speak to those details. I do hope later this year to do a follow up smart home hub shoot out, so look for that perhaps this fall just before the holiday season.

      Based on the items you want to control, I’d personally suggest either the Staples Hub, or the SmartThings hub. I’ve had the assistance of a friend with my blog lately, and she has provided me some insight to the usefulness of the SmartThings device. Overall I think it may even best the Staples in many ways. They also have a really wide range of items that are compatible.

      That being said, I’ve come to learn there is no one stop shop when it comes to home automation. For example, the Chamberlain garage door opener won’t work with the Staples (nor the SmartThings, I don’t think)– only the Wink. Yet it is the best of its kind, and should work with HomeKit. Which you alluded to HK and what it will offer– I suspect even that will be decent at first, but better with time.

      Sorry, I don’t have any suggestions for range extenders since I’ve not spent any real time testing those. I’d stick to a name brand you choose (Cisco, Dlink, etc). Or if you’re an apple fan, their router/extenders are probably great options (Though perhaps not the lowest cost).

      I’m thinking this touched down on most of your questions, but maybe didn’t provide all the answers you need. Concisely concluded: the best hub really depends on not just the hardware you have, but also the hardware you want. Reliability wise the Staples & SmartThings tie for the best, with the latter being nicer/cleaner, but Staples worked for me because of my need for Lutron Caseta compatibility. YRMV, so check out the spectrum of compatibility of course.

      Happy hunting! – Let me know any other specific questions you have– always happy to help!! – Ari

  23. Ari- Awesome in-depth review. Perfect for tech geeks like me. It takes a lot of time and effort to document and share your results which save us all a lot of time and effort. I am on the same boat as you with an old house w/ no ground wire on some switches and basically have the same goal in mind as far as home automation. Anxiously waiting for your next updated review. I am starting from the beginning and would like to know your final suggestions. I am planning to start my upgrade next week so would like to order whatever i need asap i.e hub, water leak detection, garage door opener etc. On another note, i planned on blogging on my test results on DIY home security systems and never made the time so hopefully this will help some people. I finally went with Fortress Wireless Security GSM system. Simple setup. Pros: -it does the job well -I had 3 false alarms in a year which is not bad at all (I think it was a low battery issue) -Can arm and disarm system via text msg/keychain remote/calling system. Alerts you finally phone call and text message. Cons: All parts (keypad, remotes, door/window sensors, motion sensors, glassbreak detectors, sirens etc) feel of very cheap material but they work and do the job. -Cannot integrate with security cameras. If you’re looking for a cheap wireless security system that works and easy to setup then this is it. Its semi smart with phone and text capabilities. Setup and install in less than 2hrs. Hope this helps some of you. Most importantly, order new energizer batteries from Amazon and replace the cheap batteries the system come with right from the get-go. This system is really only for tech geeks.

    1. Amit, thank you for the great data. Interesting feedback too on the Fortress Wireless system– thank you for sharing. I’m sure other readers will also benefit, so that is appreciated.

      As for the best sensors, or hub, that is still very much up in the air. If you are not an iOS user (hence you might not care about Home Kit compatibility), the best hub hands down right now is the SmartThings hub. Though I don’t have any testing on my website here, my friend has used this hub extensively, I’ve seen it in action, and love it. However, being a hard core Apple guy, I’m waiting to see what the future holds.

      Right now the big issues I have are that Home Kit compatibility is rolling out very slowly. I contacted Chamberlain to see if their garage door system would work with Home Kit as is (upgrade firmware OTA) or if there would be new hardware required (like how Lutron handled their HK hardware). Chamberlain did not have an answer yet. On the flip side, my Schlage door locks will indeed need the new Sense hardware (Bluetooth) to be HK ready, those are due out later this year. And the current Insteon hub that is now offered that is Home Kit ready does not yet do notifications, making it a very poor excuse for a hub, with poor reviews on Amazon and other sites.

      So sadly, to answer your question, I’d probably really wait, if you’re an Apple person. Especially since there will likely be devices released later this year that are Home Kit compatible, and the old “current” versions sold right now might not be able to be upgraded. That was the case with my Lutron hub, that is the case for Insteon hub users, etc. IF you’re an android user, or just want to get going ASAP, my suggestion for your devices listed would be as follows are some of my favorite goodies (see links below)

      SmartThings Hub (also consider starter kit w/door sensors)
      http://amzn.to/1LWEjub

      Fibaro Flood sensor (there are others, but this one rocks!)
      http://amzn.to/1eG7CDa

      Chamberlain MyQ Garage door (still the best on the market IMO)
      http://amzn.to/1LSe874

      Schlage Connect door locks (there are other options, too, like August, which is good)
      http://amzn.to/1CoIHit

      NEST Thermostat, still the gold standard for this arena
      http://amzn.to/1CoIJXz

      Nest Cam – best IP camera on the market today, see my other blog post
      http://amzn.to/1CoIMmh

      1. Hey Ari, I just placed my order for the hub, flood sensor, front door lock, and chamberlain garage door opener you recommended. You saved me hours and hours of research…much appreciated. Now if i can only convert you to an android user haha. As for nest cam, the reviews seem pretty negative on amzn however dropcam pro (prior to nest buyout) has great reviews. I’m sure the camera works great but I hate surveillance cloud subscription services. For surveillance i currently use 10 Foscam POE exterior cameras and Blue Iris (cheap one time fee for the software). Great for geo fence, email alerts, mobile viewing. Once again, i only recommend this to tech geeks since it requires a lot of time to set up but once its up and running you have nothing to worry about. Everything is stored locally on laptop and FTP’d to my parents desktop at their house in the event a burglar breaks in and steals the laptop from my home. No complaints with foscam except that I cant tilt or zoom. PTZ cams would be awesome but way too expensive. Dropcam pro would have been an ideal addition if it was compatible with local dvr ios. Will keep you posted when my order arrives and I tinker with it. Thanks again!

      2. It is funny, my cohort Holly and I noted those same really poor reviews on the Nest Cam, and we can’t really understand why. It does everything that the Dropcam Pro did, but better. It seems like those users are off-base for their comments. If you look here on my site you’ll find my Dropcam vs Nest Cam comparison. Either way, I do agree about the cloud storage and cost issues. In a perfect setting you would do exactly what you described with an FTP mirror off site, but the problem of course is that setup isn’t easy for the average person. Which is why cloud recording just makes good sense at least for right now. I’d love to see someone offer local NAS recording that also cloud mirrors– the closest to that would be a Synology NAS with IP cameras recording there, and they do have mirror options, but then the cost gets really heavy and the latency can be bad depending on connection speeds etc. Anyhow, enjoy the gadgets, and let me know if you have any questions with setup or need any more pointers! – Ari

  24. Hi Ari,

    This blog is so full of information both in the articles and the comments.

    I just purchased a Staples DLink Connect and am looking for your thoughts on Ceiling Fan light and speed controls.

    I know you lack a neutral wire but for those of who do not which light switches should we choose?

    Also is it possible I’ll be able to integrate my alarm.com z-wave alarm system? I have full access as I own it.

    1. Stan, thank you for visiting my blog. Glad you’ve found the data thus far useful, and I hope myself or my visitors can reply to give you further insight into your new home automation setup.

      First off, sadly, I have zero experience with the ceiling fan controls. I’ve only really played with lights, not ceiling fans. As you may have seen here on my blog, the lights I’ve used have been the Lutron Caseta wireless switches. Even if you have a neutral wire, these are still my favorite as their Clear Connect protocols are the most reliable I’ve found. Faster than Z-wave or Zigbee, more likely to actually work, etc.

      You can find those switches here:
      http://amzn.to/1I5YMWj

      If you want to save money you may find zwave switches from Aspire or Vizia which would also work, but frankly my findings were that all of the good quality units are still $45-65 in range. Sadly, switches remain expensive — bulbs are a cheaper option, but then if someone flips off the switch, the bulb doesn’t do anything/respond. It costs money to play in this arena.

      Lastly, I don’t have experience with the alarm systems either, however, I do have a First Alert Z-Wave Combination Photoelectric Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm these days, which works perfectly with the SC hub. You can find that here:

      http://amzn.to/1NuIfD7

      Slowly I am migrating my home system more to the Apple HomeKit ecosystem, however, a friend of mine who helps me with my blog is setting her house up to utilize the new SmartThings hub which was just released. Since they use Zwave and Zigbee and mimic the SC, you may find future posts that involve her home helpful.

      Hopefully this data answers your questions, and where I was unable, hopefully a passer-by might reply with more data. Thanks for visiting! – Ari

      1. New topic: would like to control a bathroom exhaust fan based on humidity. Any products you know would be available?

      2. Not easily. You could probably hook something up to a smart thermostat using auxiliary features. But would be hard to make work. From what I know theme hardware that will meet your needs should be out later this year or next perhaps. Nothing at the moment does what you request that I know of right now.

      3. I’ll have to use a Leviton product for now that is not automated. I am interested in what comes out later.

      4. Jack, thank you for sharing. I too saw this update in my tech news yesterday. This may be the start of the end of Wink, only time will tell. Lately I’ve been testing the new Samsung-branded SmartThings hub, and think they might be the best option. Wink has a prettier interface, but the ST hub offers a better feature set if you ask me. Look for a possible follow-up Fall 2015 hub review, if time allows me!

  25. This has been extremely useful as I work on developing a home automation system. I am especially intrigued about using the Lutron pico remote with the Staples Connect system to control non-Lutron devices. I do have a few questions:

    1. Like you I have an older home without neutral wires in most switches. The Lutron dimmer is the obvious solution, but I wonder whether I can use these dimmers as effective on/off switches by setting them to maximum power at all times. This would allow me to use the dimmers even where there are no dimmable lights (such as my carport and porch lights.) Did you use them this way? How did you handle the on/off switches?

    2. Have you given any thought to the usefulness of the Echo as a voice control for a system. I’ve read your post about the Echo, but would love to hear more how you use it in your system. Unfortunately Staples Connect is not compatible (yetwith Echo, but it seems to me that voice control would be a huge advantage.

    3. I saw your praise of the new SmartThings hub. Isn’t the lack of Lutron support a problem?

    Again, your two posts have been a wealth of information and inspiration!

    1. Chuck, great questions! I’m working on answering some of these questions in a blog post, but as that might not get published for a few more weeks, I’ll give you the answers you seek right now.

      First, the easiest one to answer is the on/off switch situation. In those instances, I’ve purchased Lutron Caseta on/off switches. Yes, they make dimmers which is what you’ll find most prevalent in your local big box stores, but if you see the link below, the on/off switches can be purchased online, and offer help in situations where you do not want a dimmer.

      http://amzn.to/1PyZpjh

      Secondly, the Amazon Echo (and Samsung SmartThings hub) have been tested at my friend’s house. She doesn’t have any Lutron lights, but you’re right that this omission means I can’t use them at my residence. For voice control I’m using the latest Lutron hub, with HomeKit. This works, so long as you’re an Apple user. If you aren’t using Apple, and want voice control, you could see how well the Wink Hub, which supports Lutron, works with the Echo. I can’t speak from experience, so I don’t know how well that works.

      However, in the case of the SmartThings hub, the Echo does a really nice job turning lights on and off. So again if that is the route you want to go, that may be worth checking out. As much as I do like the functionality of the Staples hub, their lack of software updates as of late makes me question how much future compatibility they will offer.

      My forthcoming blog post is going to cover a lot of these issues. HomeKit versus Amazon Echo. Wink or SmartThing hubs versus other options. As you know this becomes increasingly more complicated the more hardware you add. Did this answer your questions? Let me know if this created any new questions, too! Ciao… Ari

  26. Ari

    Thanks! Great news about the on/off switch not needing a neutral. One of the surprises in this whole project has been how few options there are for those of us who live in homes with older wiring. Fortunately, we have a great option.

    I had been wary about Wink because of the instability issues that you and others had raised. I am hopeful that recent firmware changes have made Wink more stable and reliable (although the recent bankruptcy filing gives me pause about the future of Wink.

    Another option I am considering is to use the Smart Things hub for most of my devices and buying the Lutron hub for the switches, using the Echo as the “integrator.”

    I look forward to your next posting,

  27. Hi Ari,

    Thank you very much for all your great comments and the help you provide to your followers. I just stumbled across your blog and read every comment. There is a lot of great info here!

    I started my HA experience with the Wink, but switched to the SC (black) as soon as it became available. The decision was mainly based on supported protocols as well as response time (wifi vs internet). Over that last couple of years, I’ve acquired a number of devices which are handled by the SC: various Lutron Caseta in-wall switches/dimmers, a number of Pico remotes (in-wall and around the house), Hue bulbs and light strips, GE Jasco outdoor switches, GE On/Off switches, GE Link Bulbs, Linear Garage Door Opener, Leviton in-wall outlets and Nest Thermostats. All work great with the SC (although I have a few Zwave Gen-5 devices laying around which SC still does NOT support and I’ve been eagerly waiting for their next update). I’m sure you can imagine the amount of time spent on configuring all kinds of activities on the SC.

    I just purchased the Amazon Echo (my wife and daughter really like talking to Alexa), but currently it can only control the Hue Lights in my setup. I’m wondering if you (or any of your followers) has played with integrating the Wink to the SC hub? I was thinking that if this were possible, maybe I can control most of my other devices using the Echo, but keeping the SC functionality which I really like over the Wink. Do you have any experience with the Wink’s ‘learning’ mode? Would you recommend goint that route or would you suggest something else for voice control? I will be getting the HomeKit-enabled Hue hub soon, but that still limits me to the Hue Lights.

    Should I be looking at other HA hubs?

    Looking forward to your reply and thanks in advance.

    Happy holidays!

    1. GZ, thanks for the positive feedback. Glad to offer the help, and glad you enjoy the blog.

      I’m not sure what you mean by integrating Wink to SC (and by SC, assume you mean Staples Connect). But I am unaware of any way to make those two hubs, or any two hubs for that matter, work together. Also, Z-wave devices only can link to a single master at any time, just like the Lutron Caseta hardware. So if you did choose to use the Wink hub, you’d want to totally abandon the SC device, so that everything all was under the same roof.

      I’m in agreement about the Wink hub not being perhaps as solid/reliable as the SC hub was for me in the past. But they haven’t added support, updates, or any additional data for the SC hub in months. SC forums on their site have many users saying the same thing- that it is a dead device. Time to move on, sadly. Which is a shame because it was reliable.

      Voice control via Siri is nice, but at the moment it is rather limited. Also, there is no Z-wave support right now, though perhaps that might change down the road if someone makes a hub that is HomeKit compatible, that bridges the gap between Apple and z-wave. Right now, though, HomeKit lacks the z-wave you need, and would render many of your devices useless.

      So your first option would be to go 100% home kit, but this is the more expensive choice, as you’d need to replace all of your z-wave devices. (or wait for someone to release a HomeKit compatible bridge). Your second option, which can both resolve your issues more immediately, and also will be cheaper in the long run, is to migrate over to the Wink Hub. You said you already purchased the Echo, so ditching SC for Wink would give you immediate control of by voice that you want.

      However, do keep in mind that both Siri, and Echo, have voice limits. For example, Siri cannot yet open/close a garage door since nobody has released a HomeKit product yet (MyQ is coming soon, so they claim). And Echo cannot handle door locks directly, yet. Though there are work-arounds there using IFTTT and Scene control, with a Wink hub, that we tested.

      Hope this helps you… realize it may not be the route you want to go, but if voice control matters, those are really the only two options right now. Third option is of course to wait, do nothing, live with your limited control, and see what happens. Devices like the Hue hub can be cross-linked, for example. You could link a Hue hub to work with Echo, while also working with Staples, while also working with HomeKit, all at the same time. Testing that might help you appreciate the options more, before spending additional time/money. Do that (get the new Hue hub) and see if you like Echo vs Siri more, to maybe help educate yourself on the decision. Ciao! 🙂

      1. Hi Ari, Thanks for your reply… Lots of good info. and lots to think about…
        I have not heard much regarding any kind of updates to the StaplesConnect, so maybe it’s time to move on…
        I stumbled across the Lutron Hub with HomeKit support and thought I might give that a try… maybe split my configuration between that hub and the Smartthings V2 hub… I wish the ST V2 supported Lutron, but it looks like it does not, but at least I could start to use my Gen5 z-wave recessed door sensors… My homekit-eneabled Hue Hub is on its way, so I’ll be playing with that soon.

        Thanks again!

  28. Want to buy the Lutron D105 Drapery Tracks, but way to costly. Any other options? Want to automate our windows with shears.

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